Experts say that kids face an “epic withdrawal” from devices and screens

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Thanks to the pandemic, children in the U.S. have spent hours and hours staring at screens. Whether they are using tablets to do school work, connecting to friends with their phones, playing video games on a console, or watching television on their, well, televisions, once things return to normal, a huge problem lies ahead. According to a story in the New York Times, some experts see a tough road ahead for those children who become addicted to their screens.

Children face “epic withdrawal” from screens once the pandemic ends”

Professor Keith Humphreys, an addiction expert, professor of psychology at Stanford University, and a former Obama senior adviser, has a dire warning to share with parents. He says, “There will be a period of epic withdrawal as young people try to “sustain attention in normal interactions without getting a reward hit every few seconds.” Some experts who normally would be aghast at the amount of screen time that children are averaging these days, originally told parents that they shouldn’t feel guilty allowing their children to ring up more screen time in the face of lockdowns.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician who focuses on the use of mobile tech by children at the University of Michigan, says that if she had known how long these lockdowns would last, her advice would have been different. “I probably would have encouraged families to turn off Wi-Fi except during school hours so kids don’t feel tempted every moment, night and day. The longer they’ve been doing a habituated behavior, the harder it’s going to be to break the habit.”

Based on data from Qustodio, a company that tracks usage of devices by those 4 to 15 years-old, screen time doubled last May on a year-over-year basis. In March and April, children in the U.S. spent  on average 97 minutes a day viewing YouTube videos. Not only was that up from an average of 57 minutes a day in February, it was up 100% year-over-year. Similar trends were seen for YouTube in England and Spain.

Even those age 10 and younger are spending hours per day playing games like Fortnite, using short-form video app TikTok, and messaging app Snapchat. Another online game that is very popular among kids is Robolox. Users can program their own games and play games developed by others. The company that developed Roblox says, “Roblox is a global platform where millions of people gather together every day to imagine, create, and share experiences with each other in immersive, user-generated 3D worlds. … Roblox is free to download and free to play on all modern smartphones, tablets, computers, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive.” Popular among kids 9 to 12 years of age, the app drew 31.1 million users a day over the first nine months of last year, up 82% year-over-year.

Parents have been surprisingly open to allowing their kids to have plenty of screen time. Many have enabled their children’s behavior by buying them new devices. Take corporate writer Paraskevi Briasouli. She has four children and says that screen time has replaced sports on weekday afternoons. On weekends, screen time soared 70 percent. Her 8-year old son Jesse used to borrow his dad’s old iPad Pro tablet. But after the pandemic started, Jesse and his 6-year old sister each were given an iPad mini. Ms. Briasouli also pointed out that she and her husband bought the kids a Nintendo Switch “because everybody got a Switch.” Mr. Briasouli was at first concerned about all of this tech, but became more optimistic about it as his kids became digital experts. He said, “These are the tools of their lives. Everything they will do, they will do through one of these electronic devices, socialization included.”

Are children destined to be permanently addicted to their devices? Not exactly says Stanford’s Humphreys who says that disciplined time away from screens can help children disconnect. It won’t be easy because the devices are used for school, to maintain a social life, and more. The Doctor points out that children now associate their devices with pleasure making it nearly impossible to disconnect the kids from their phones, tablets, game consoles, and televisions.

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